Solo GPC

515 (Part Two)

The Grey Knight

Yeesh, nearly a month since the last Solo GPC update. What can I say, the holidays really do get in the way of things. So then,  a year and a day out from my first proper post in the series, we soldier on.

In the wake of the Grey Knight’s visitation and challenge, the King and Queen had hurried off the field accompanied by Merlin and Gawaine. This left the remainder of the assembled nobility in somewhat of a lurch as hushed whispers, heavy with fear and trepidation, rippled through the crowd. At last Sir Kay stood up and announced that the evening’s feast would be held as scheduled but that in light of the morning’s events the Grand Melee would be canceled.

With this announcement, the crowd dispersed, returning to their tents and lodgings to make ready for the feast. Sir Herringdale reassured Lady Jenna, who had been particularly shaken up by the Grey Knight. Seeing how upset his wife was, Herringdale made arrangements for her to depart immediately for Du Plain Castle with most of his court.

Jenna was not the only one returning home; more than a few knights were among those who hastily departed from Silchester that day. By feast time, it was mostly an assembly of knights who were left to fill Duke Ulfius’s hall. Even Arthur’s sister, Morgan, had departed for home, Herringdale learned. The old Duke held court in place of Arthur, who was still sequestered away. Owing to the day’s events, the tone of the meal was subdued and somber. The young bard whom Herringdale had seen conversing with Merlin and Nimue at the last feast sang Dierdre’s lament over the deaths of the sons of Usna as venison medallions in wild mushroom sauce served in pastries were laid before the guests.

All talk of course centered around the events of the day. At the high table, where Herringdale sat, the gossip was all about the identity of the lady in black; many swore that it was Lady De Vance, the paramour of King Ryons of Norgales. It was to Lady De Vance’s manor that King Ryons was riding when he was captured and mortally wounded by Sir Balin and his brother Balan on the eve of the Battle of Terrabil.

The feast wrapped up early and still with no word or sign from the High King; gratefully, Herringdale returned to his tent to catch some sleep before following his family home the next day. At dawn, Herringdale rose and made ready to attend Mass at Silchester cathedral before hitting the road. Filing into the basilica, he caught sight of Arthur, Guenevere, and Gawaine coming in through a side door. The traces of a sleepless night were plain on their faces.

Bishop Bedwin preceded over a rushed mass and then announced that all knights were to make for the tournament grounds for a royal proclamation. Curious, Herringdale accompanied his brothers in arms out of the cathedral in a mass scrum; at the door, he found himself wedged shoulder to shoulder with Sir Kay, who shot him a dirty look and uttered curses under his breath.

Down at the lists, Herringdale caught sight of Arthur taking up position in the royal box. As the last of the knights filtered down from Silchester, Arthur nodded to a herald, who unfurled a roll of parchment and read:

I, Arthur Pendragon, High King and Dux Bellorum, do hereby challenge all knights loyal to my crown to set forth this day upon a great quest. Roam the lands of Britain and, before the feast of Pentecost, bring back to the Royal City of London the Thirteen Treasures of Britain.

This was such a singularly unexpected announcement that the crowd of knights was left momentarily speechless. Then a low buzz rippled through the crowd as one man turned to another, brows furrowed, bursting with questions.

Herringdale, meanwhile, kept his eyes on Arthur, who had been joined by Nimue, the Lady of the Lake. She stepped forward and began to sing, her mellifluous voice carrying over the lists like birdsong, quieting the whispers and conversation of the crowd.

[The song of Nimue, which is a page long block of flavor text in the adventure, listed the thirteen great treasures of Britain: Dyrnwyn, sword of Rhydderch Hael; the Hamper of Gwyddno Garanhir; the Horn of Bran Galad; the Chariot of Morgan; the Halter of Clydno Eiddyn; the Knife of Laufrodedd; the Cauldron of Diwrnach the Giant; the Whetstone of Tudwal Tudclud; the Coat of Padarn Reedcoat; the Crock and Dish of Rhygenydd; the Gwyddbwll Board of Gwenddolau; and Arthur’s Mantle of Invisibility. The song also mentioned the Mantle of Tegau Eurvon and the Stone and Ring of Eluned.]

As Nimue’s song ended, the murmuring began again. Soon, a young knight somewhere in the crowd gave voice to the growing confusion and anxiety.

“Why do you urge this quest, sire?”

Arthur stepped forward into the light. He looked haggard, like the weight of many years was suddenly upon him. But when he spoke his voice was firm and commanding.

“Merlin has said that one of these relics will aid Sir Gawaine in the fight to come. Without it, his death is certain.”

Another knight closer to Herringdale spoke up.

“But cannot Merlin tell which of the treasures will aid Gawaine?”

There was a pause before Arthur answered, and in that moment every knight on the field suddenly became aware that Merlin was among them, mounted atop a colossal warhorse. As Herringdale looked round, the horse’s piebald spots seemed to glow for a moment before fading to normal color. Herringdale stared and Merlin seemed to stare back directly at him.

“Prophecy is a mysterious messenger, sir knights. It answers as it will. Arthur’s charge should be reason enough for any knight to ride forth – without question.”

At this, Merlin’s eyes flashed with a blazing light and Herringdale suddenly felt more energized than he had in years. The old lust for adventure and glory was back, and he could think of little else than running back to his tent and making ready to depart immediately.

He was hardly alone. Most of the knights on the field began to make for their tents, calling for their squires to arm them, as others raised a cheer to Arthur. Only a small minority of knights [those who failed their Loyalty: Arthur rolls] stood by skeptically or quietly slipped away to make preparations to return home rather than head off on the wizard’s wild goose chase.

Back at his tent, Herringdale was excitedly making ready to hit the road, Baldrick scurrying around, loading up the sumpters and securing provisions. As Herringdale was belting his sword on, his doorway was darkened by a monk. Herringdale recognized him as Friar Coombs, the mendicant whom he had met on the road to Silchester after his run-in with Sir Agravaine.

“A moment, sir?” Coombs inquired.

“Certainly,” said Herringdale, drawing up a camp stool and inviting the friar to do the same.

“Thank you,” said Coombs. "I have come to deliver good news: you may find the treasure that Gawaine requires by seeking out the Queen of the Wastelands. She is a very holy woman and resides in a priory at which I once served. While there, she told me that she had seen a vision from the Lord telling her that one day she would guide a great quest – a quest that would be fulfilled by a knight in God’s service.

“I believe the mercy you showed those wretched peasants on the Silchester road marks you as the knight that the Queen spoke of, and I would like to help you. I am old and much vexed by gout, so I cannot travel with you. But I can provide you with a map to the Queen’s priory.”

“Although I doubt that I am worthy of being called a knight in the Lord’s service,” said Herringdale, blushing a bit, “I will take your direction, for I lack any of my own in this matter.”

Friar Coombs sketched out a rough map showing how to get to the Queen’s priory once Herringdale had entered the Wastelands – “a most foul and dread land of late, I’m afraid,” as Coombs described them, handing the map to Herringdale. “May God guide and protect you on your quest.”

Herringdale thanked the Friar and saw to the last of his travel preparations, including sending a messenger to Du Plain to tell Lady Jenna not to wait up. Soon his tent had been struck and packed away and he was mounted up, ready to ride. As he considered the route which lay before him, he felt a touch of dismay. There were 42 days to Pentecost and the Queen’s priory lay in the northwest of the country on the other side of the Pennine Mountains. Even by the most direct route, Herringdale could expect a round-trip of about three weeks.

“We’d best make haste Baldrick, for the road ahead is long and arduous,” said Herringdale as he put his spurs to his favorite rouncey.

It was about an hour outside Silchester on the Cirencester road that Herringdale realized he was being followed. A rider trailed him at a distance, but it was clear he was no knight. Herringdale brought his horse round and sat and waited. Ten minutes later the rider caught up and Herringdale could see that his pursuer was the young bard, associate of Merlin and Nimue.

“Greetings, Sir Herringdale of Salisbury. My name is Diarmuid.”

“A pleasure to meet you at last,” replied Herringdale. “It seems our paths have drawn near on several occasions of late.”

“By your leave, I would much like to see our paths converge for a time,” replied Diarmuid with a wry smile. “Your reputation and your actions at the tournament have shown me you are a man of greatness, deserving to hold one of the thirteen great treasures. If you succeed in your quest, I would make a great tale of it.”

“Very well,” said Herringdale, somewhat nonplussed at the idea of having a chronicler along for the journey.

The days ticked by as Herringdale and his small escort made their way north. At every castle and manor he passed along the way he was warmly welcomed – his reputation preceded him and he was feted at every stop by lords happy to have a Round Table knight of such renown as their guest. At Lambor Castle south of Leicester, Herringdale had to make a choice on which direction to continue. Taking Wullum Street west would bring him to the City of Legions, while Fosse Way to the north would take him through the Duchy of Lindsey. Either route would bring him to a route that led into the Wastelands. In the end, Herringdale opted for the northern route, as it was more familiar terrain for him.

Herringdale did not tarry at Lindsey despite the lavish welcome he was given by the Duke. The memories of lost love and days of youth long past still haunted the halls and streets of that great northern citadel, and Herringdale was on his way as quickly as possible. The Duke did provide Herringdale with good directions, though: “Make for Penrith Castle at the foot of the mountains. From there you can take a westerly trail through a low pass and into the wasted lands once known as Listeneisse. Such a pity what has become of that kingdom…”

On the tenth day of travel, Herringdale approached Penrith Castle, which sat in the center of a small walled town. The Pennines rose wild in the near distance, blue and brooding under a blanket of fog. Although it was late afternoon when he arrived, Herringdale found the gates of the town wall still flung wide, and he rode through the darkening streets directly for the castle. Banging on the oak doors brought a porter to the postern. He regarded Herringdale with an appraising glance, then flashed a wide, toothy smile.

“Welcome to Penrith, good sir! This is a castle where the brave and generous are welcome.”

The gate opened and Herringdale flicked his reins, riding into the courtyard. There he was met by a steward bearing a roll of parchment. He took down Herringdale’s name, then summoend squires to show the travelers to their quarters. Considering it was a small frontier castle, Herringdale was surprised to be given his own private, albeit somewhat cramped, bed chamber. The squires informed him that dinner would be served shortly and left Herringdale to freshen up.

No sooner had he started doing so than a knock came at the door. It was the steward again, and this time he had a request.

“My lord Sir Epinegris has been ordered by King Arthur to welcome every visiting knight who comes here to seek adventure. Special funds have been set aside for this, but so many visitors have come that there is a shortage of both food and drink. Will you, good sir, offer us any assistance in this dilemma?”

Unhesitatingly, Herringdale fetched his strongbox, opened it, and withdrew enough silver Roman denarii to equal five libra. The steward goggled at Herringdale’s generosity and withdrew with a florid bow, clutching the money tightly to his chest.

About a half-hour later the summons came for dinner and Herringdale, dressed in his finest clothing, descended the spiral stairs to the great hall. The sight that greeted him was quite unlike anything he’d ever encountered before. Along one wall of the hall, Sir Epinegris had hung the mounted heads of game animals he had conquered – but these were not typical game animals. Rather than the typical elk, boar, and deer heads, the wall was hung with the heads of giant mice, rats, and badgers!

As Herringdale picked his jaw up off the floor, he looked about the rest of the hall. Three tables had been laid out and there were indeed quite a few knights in attendance. Most notable was Sir Tor and Sir Griflet, who were seated at the high table. They motioned for Sir Herringdale to join them, but they had little chance to talk before a trumpet blast heralded the arrival of Sir Epinegris.

The lord of Penrith Castle was draped in rich furs that looked like they had been stitched together from giant rodent skins. The main course at the ensuing feast continued the theme, with the kitchen staff proudly bringing out a whole roast giant mouse stuffed with chickens, capons, and artichoke. Herringdale dined on the strange fare with good grace and chatted with Tor and Griflet, who were questing together and were bound for the south Pennines on the morrow.

He also talked with a knight from Lindsey, Sir Tanneguy of Thedwick, who was able to provide some more detailed information on the Wastelands.

“The prevailing opinions about conditions in the Wastelands are correct,” said Sir Tanneguy, "but not entirely so. It is a horrifying and disgusting place. But it also has a secret.

“A few knights have come out of the Wastelands and reported seeing a castle there. They call it the Castle of Adventure. It is not ruined, and its inhabitants seem to be normal. We think they said it was the castle of King Pelles, who somehow survived the destruction of his kingdom of Listeneisse.

“Nonetheless, it is a castle of shame. No one can tell what happens there, but we have discovered several knights, stripped naked and whipped, tied to a wagon in the most dishonorable manner imaginable. They do not like to talk about what happened.”

As the feast wrapped up, Sir Epinegris rose.

“It is time now for the Bravery Muster. Let me introduce my guests…”

He took it in turn to introduce Sir Tanneguy (who was greeted with a chorus of “Welcome!”), Sir Tor and Sir Griflet (who each got a round of applause in addition to a shout of “Welcome!”) and finally Sir Herringdale (who was the recipient of a great roar of approval and a standing ovation).

“We also wish to acknowledge Sir Herringdale’s great generosity,” said Epinegris as the applause died down. “He is welcome back here at Penrith any time!”

Another cheer and round of applause greeted this accolade. Glancing around, Herringdale saw Diarmuid sitting near the fire, smiling wryly. Herringdale grinned back and rose to leave. As he did, a young, scholarly man approached him.

“Please, sir, may I introduce myself? I am Alric, clerk of the castle.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Herringdale. “May I ask you a question? As a man of God, what do you make of the Wastelands?”

Alric rubbed his chin thoughtfully with ink-stained fingers. At last he answered.

“We mortals can never look directly upon the face of God, but only upon the mask. The mask is of infinite variety, and since God can never truly be seen, but only reflected, when we see the mask we see, in truth, the reflection of our selves. The mask of terror and pain which we see in the Wastelands is a measure of our own fear and unhappiness, and is a sign that we must seek Salvation.”

“I will take your words to heart during my travels,” said Herringdale, patting Alric on the shoulder. With a heavy sigh, he bid good night to Sir Epinegris and the others and headed up to his quarters for what would turn out to be his last good night’s sleep for some time to come.

The following day Herringdale departed Penrith before dawn, making for the pass through the mountains. The journey was uneventful, but as he began to descend the pass on the other side of the mountains he noticed a definite change in the surrounding landscape. The cliffs of the pass assumed a jagged, knifelike aspect, stabbing darkly at the sky, which had become overcast with threatening, leaden clouds. The vegetation lay dead and rotting, and even the ground itself seemed leached of life. The smell of rotting plants and general decay grew thicker in the air as Herringdale descended from the mountains. His horses’ hooves kicked up small clouds of dust with every step, dust that hung limply in the still air which was already choked with dust clouds and fog that obscured visibility and erased the horizon. As he rode, Herringdale couldn’t help but find the fetid smell familiar.

“It is as if the Grey Knight himself rides with us,” shivered Diarmuid.

“My thoughts exactly,” Herringdale whispered. Why he spoke quietly he knew not other than the fact it felt like he was riding through a great desolate graveyard.

Friar Coombs’s map quickly proved useless. The landscape had clearly changed dramatically since the Friar had served at the Queen’s priory, and soon Herringdale had to resign himself to aimless wandering.

The day wore on. He passed a brackish stream of dark water that seemed to be flowing on top of the dessicated soil rather than through it. He passed through a small forest of dead trees. He heard no signs of life in the many hours he rode, and neither he nor his companions could summon up the will to cut the silence with song or banter.

As evening approached, the clouds overhead that had been threatening to open up all day finally did so. Within minutes Herringdale was drenched to the bone by the downpour. The black clouds brought night early, and soon Herringdale could only see the way ahead by the light of flashes of purple lightning among the clouds. It was in one of those flashes that he spotted what looked like a small abbey.

“The priory!” exclaimed Baldrick.

“Shelter, at the least!” Herringdale shouted back over the howling winds. The trio rode for the abbey, heads bent against the driving rain. Herringdale had to pound on the soaking doors for several minutes before someone answered. Standing in the gate was a monk, his features obscured by his black hood.

“Please enter and be welcome, weary travelers. ’Tis a vile night to be abroad in this land.”

As Herringdale dismounted and led his horse into the gatehouse, the monk pulled his hood back, revealing a handsome man in his 20s with jet black hair and green eyes. He flashed Herringdale a broad smile as he introduced himself.

“I am Brother Taman. Please come in and be at ease.”

Taman showed Baldrick where to stable the horses, then led Herrindale and Diarmuid through the courtyard to the main building and the abbey’s dining hall. He left the two men to fetch food and as Herringdale sat dripping in the hall a queer observation occurred to him: at no point, either on the front doors or here in the hall, had he seen any religious iconography. The walls were bare plaster with nary a crucifix to be seen.

Taman returned with cups, a stone jar, and some bread and cheese on a platter.

“Forgive the simple fare,” said Taman as he poured a cup of wine for himself and his guests. Diarmuid took a sip of the wine once he had been proferred a cup and immediately commented on its quality.

“Aye, it is from a sister abbey in the south of France. Our stock is running low, I am afraid to say,” replied Taman, taking a sip from his own cup. Herringdale refrained from drinking or eating, instead fixing Taman with a searching glare as Baldrick returned from putting the horses away and helped himself to food and drink.

“I noticed there are no crucifixes on display. A bit unusual for an abbey, isn’t it?”

“I’m afraid to say that I am last member of this abbey remaining. After the Dolorous Stroke, the land began to wither and my brothers became despondent. They all fled, even the abbot, and they took all of our meager treasures bit by bit, including the crucifixes. I alone remain with just the bare essentials, confident that the land will be restored one day.”

“Do you know of the priory of the Queen of the Wastelands?” Herringdale asked.

“Indeed I do! Is that your destination? I am happy to report that the priory is only a half-day’s ride from here. Once this storm eases, I will take you there.”

“Very well,” said Herringdale. “In that case, if it’s all the same to you I think I would like to retire now. It’s been a long day.”

“Certainly,” said Taman. “Let me show you to your quarters.”

The monk led the men up a short flight of stairs that led to a narrow hall. At the end of the hall were three doors.

“Each of you can take a private chamber,” said Taman with a gracious bow. “I will see you on the morrow.”

As he disappeared down the stairs, Baldrick turned to Herringdale.

“Odd that there are just enough rooms for us. The stables were much the same – there were just enough stalls for each horse. No more, no less. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the like.”

“Yes, this is indeed a strange place. Try to stay alert for any problems—”

Herringdale was interrupted by a tremendous yawn from Diarmuid.

“Eh, sorry! I’m just so-so-so…tired…”

Baldrick yawned too. “Me t-t-too…,” he said as he stifled yet another yawn.

Glad he had not partaken of the soporific wine, Herringdale stepped into his own chamber as the others retired. It was what he expected of an abbey’s accommodations: very spare and utilitarian. Despite his suspicions, he decided he’d better try and get some sleep, so he stripped off his armor and soaking clothes and lay down. He was soon drifting off to sleep, his dagger beneath his pillow and his sword within easy reach…just in case.

As he slept, he dreamed that a beautiful woman had entered his chamber. She was wearing a diaphanous gown which she slipped off her creamy shoulders as she stepped forward. She sat on the side of Herringdale’s bed and tenderly carressed his arm.

With a start, Herringdale awoke. He could just make out the form of a voluptuous woman sitting on the side of his bed. Heart hammering, mouth dry, he reached out for his sword, but she lent down and began kissing him all over. Eyes rolling back in his head, Herringdale collapsed back onto his pillow and fell back asleep.

The remainder of his night was spent tossing and turning, beset by intensely erotic visions. When at last he awoke, Herringdale found himself lying outside on the wet ground. The abbey was nowhere to be seen, but nearby were Diarmuid and Baldrick along with the horses and equipment. The storm had passed in the night, but Herringdale had never felt more exhausted. Wearily, he struggled to his feet and began to make ready for another day of aimless wandering, hoping to put the memory of the haunted abbey far behind.

[Mechanically speaking, the woman was a succubus. Herringdale lost 5 hit points to her tender ministrations; he made his Pious roll when she touched him and woke up, but then failed his Chaste roll and gave into her seduction anyway. Probably just as well – a fight against the succubus and her werepanther servant Brother Taman probably would have cost him significantly more than just 5 hit points!]

The trio rode on through the desolate landscape. They saw nothing of note until late afternoon. Through the fog and weak sunlight, Herringdale spotted a small village squatting at the bottom of a vale. Even from this distance, he could make out no signs of life or movement among the buildings. However, riding forth from the village was a knight. Herringdale sat atop his horse, waiting.

As the knight drew near, Herringdale could make out his state of dress, which was distinctly ratty and tattered despite the fact his chain armor was well-maintained. His horse looked underfed and similarly tatty, and behind the knight trailed a squire on foot, a man in his mid-30s who, like Baldrick, bore the look of a man dedicated to his station. He carried several lances slung over his shoulder along with a morning star.

“Hail, good sir!” shouted Herringdale. “We are peaceful travelers who seek lodging for the evening. What village have we come upon?”

“You have come upon Olbray, and I am its guardian!” the knight shouted back. “As my liege has charged me, I defend this place with my life. Turn back or meet me in mortal combat!”

“What in the name of…?” Herringdale muttered, completely shocked that someone could carry on in such a bull-headed and unhospitable manner, particularly considering the state of the land. He weighed his options. Combat with this crazy knight could potentially bring great harm for very little visible reward. The alternative was camping in the wild, but considering the quality of their last accommodation Herringdale didn’t see that as much of a problem.

“Very well,” said Herringdale [gaining a Prudent check in the process], “I leave you to your duty, good sir.”

And with that Herringdale reined his steed about and set off in a different direction.

[All in all, Des displayed sound reasoning and good risk assessment here. Fighting the Knight of Olbray might have led to an interesting side quest, though, so as a GM I was bit disappointed she didn’t take the bait. Ah well.]

That night Herringdale and his companions camped under the boughs of a dead oak tree. They set off early the next morning, grimly noting their dwindling stock of trail rations and mead. They encountered no signs of civilization as they rode, and the only water they found was a brackish pool with a dead wolf lying at the water’s edge. Wrinkling his nose, Herringdale rode on without trying his luck with the fetid liquid.

Another evening passed, and another day. The Wastelands rolled on over hill and dale, an endless expanse of decimated, lifeless lands. As they camped on the third night in the wild, Baldrick poured the last of the mead and distributed the last of the cheese and sausages.

“If we don’t find some shelter and hospitality tomorrow or soon after, I fear our days our numbered,” Herringdale grumbled.

The following morning, the trio set out as usual, making for some low hills. As they rode through a narrow gully at the foot of the hills, stomachs grumbling and heads swimming from skipping breakfast, Herringdale heard a commotion coming from up ahead: the sound of a tremendous roar and monstrous hiss!

Herringdale spurred his horse forward, rounding a bend in the gully to reveal a truly bizarre tableau. A full-grown lion lurked near a boulder, engaged in fearsome combat with a giant white serpent. Both creatures bore many wounds from their fight. Herringdale watched transfixed as the lion and serpent launched each other into combat once again, but was shaken from his reverie by, of all things, the voice of a small child standing nearby.

“Will you not intervene in this conflict, sir knight?”

Starting in his saddle, Herringdale’s head whipped round. The voice belonged to a young boy standing to his right, quite close – somehow Herringdale had failed to notice him at first, which seemed hard to believe now that he was looking at him.

The boy, about three years of age and golden-haired, was clothed in a tunic and breeches of half-black, half-white coloration.

“Come, good sir knight,” prompted the child, “can Good hope to defeat Evil without the help of men of goodwill?”

The child then looked to the lion and serpent, then back to Herringdale, then back to the combat again. It was clear he wanted Herringdale to intervene, but how? Befuddled, Herringdale rode forward, unsheathing his sword. He rode directly between the two creatures, hoping to break up their fight and spare them both, but instead they focused their fury upon him. The lion’s claws raked his shield, while the serpent opened its great mouth and unleashed a gout of flame!

Herringdale beat a hasty retreat and called for Smuggy to be brought forward. Mounting his warhorse, Herringdale returned to the fray. Picking a side, he joined the lion and struck out against the serpent, which lashed at him with its powerful tail as it again breathed fire. The flames licked Herringdale’s shield, but he gritted his teeth and drove Smuggy forward, hacking with his blade. The lion, meanwhile, tore into the serpent with its claws and fangs.

Soon the pair had finished off the fell creature. Somewhat singed, Herringdale sheathed his sword as he watched the serpent dissolve into black mist and dissipate. The boy simultaneously transformed before Herringdale’s astonished eyes into a small snake and slithered away into a hole between some rocks. The lion, meanwhile, had returned to the boulder it was defending. Turning the rock over with its massive paw, with its mouth it gently extracted three mewling lion cubs who had been hiding beneath the stone.

Herringdale looked down at the cubs and they stared back up at him with almost…human eyes, eyes that looked strangely familiar. With a shimmering flash, the lion transformed into a knight bearing a black and white tabard reminiscent of the boy’s tunic. On the front of the tabard was a gold lion’s face on a field of black.

“The innocent are saved though the serpent’s spawn lives. The Grey Knight’s cause is unjust.”

“I quest against the Grey Knight!” said Herringdale excitedly. “I seek the Queen of the Wastelands to aid me.”

“Ride there, sir knight," said the lion knight. “Ride through blackest night and stay not from your good quest. Your goal you shall find with the dawning.”

With that, the knight and his cubs faded away. Herringdale shook his head. If it wasn’t for the battle wounds he bore, he might have thought all that had been a strange vision brought on by his thirst and hunger. Remounting his rouncey, he set a course in the direction indicated by the lion knight.

The remainder of the day passed without incident. As the sun set, Herringdale signaled a halt and camp was pitched. Everyone was far too exhausted, hungry, and thirsty to talk or even think of setting watch. Soon they were all asleep.

Some hours passed. How many Herringdale could not be sure, only that it was pitch dark when he was roused out of sleep by a low gibbering wail. The cry grew louder and louder as a nauseating sulfurous stench washed over the campsite. Then, all about them, faintly glowing skeletal apparitions were flying through the air, laughing and taunting. As they passed, they pulled at Herringdale’s hair, pinched his skin, even threw rocks at him, all the time gibbering madly.

“What do you want!?” shouted Herringdale as Baldrick cried out in alarm and Diarmuid intoned in a strained voice, “The Sluagh!”

“The what!?” Herringdale shouted over the cackling.

“The host of unforgiven dead!” Diarmuid shouted back.

“Turrrrrrrn baaaaaaaaaaack,” the Sluagh intoned in a charnel whisper. “Ceasssse yourrr quessst.”

“Never!” Herringdale roared.

The Sluagh continued to fly about, tormenting Herringdale and his companions. They drove all the horses away. They said the Queen of the Wastelands was dead and it was futile to carry on. They promised to leave as soon as Herringdale turned back. Every time Herringdale defied them, and each time they set upon him with renewed fury, but he was largely immune to their vexations, protected as he was by the Armor of Honor his great chivalry granted.

Nevertheless, the Sluagh did not finally depart until the dawning. In their wake, however, Herringdale saw a most welcome sight: a small building shining like a beacon amidst the wasted remains of a once fertile valley. Down the slope a ways were the horses. With a cry of relief, Herringdale and company descended the hill towards the priory of the Queen of the Wastelands.


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